Internal party democracy
To establish the basic principles of
internal party democracy.
• What are political parties?
• What are the key functions of a political
There are three key elements of
1. How the leader is elected
2. How local candidates are chosen
3. How policy is developed
The election of the leader
• Is critical in determining the direction of the
party. Thus, for example, when the Conservatives
elected Michael Howard as leader in 2003, it
marked a distinct move to the right by the party
— a stance which lost the party the 2005
• Similarly, the unopposed election of Gordon
Brown as Labour leader proved to be an
unsuccessful attempt to put the Blair years
• This has generally become more leadership-oriented in all three
main parties. The influence of ‘ordinary’ members has inevitably
declined. Grass-roots members of parties tend to be more radical
than leaders, so the more influence such members have, the more
radical the party’s policy stance is likely to be. The decline in the
influence of trade unions in the Labour Party has been
decisive, moving the party closer to the centre of politics. Left-wing
members of Labour used to be influential, but this faction has all
• The Liberal Democrats remain internally democratic and the party’s
members remain influential, which partly explains why it remains a
relatively radical party. However, the discipline of sharing power
after May 2010 threatens to weaken the influence of grass-roots
Local candidate selection
• This important in that leadership groups prefer to
control the entry of new MPs.
• The Conservative Party in particular attempts to
control the selection of candidates.
• Labour has always struggled to maintain control of MPs
because of local autonomy. Traditionally the party has
had to tolerate radical members selected by radical
• The Liberal Democrats exercise virtually no central
control over candidate selection, but this has
presented few problems as the party has had so few
• Party leaderships are increasingly influenced
by public opinion rather than by their own
• This is the result largely of the decline of
• Does internal democracy matter? Are parties merely
effectively run by small elites?
Plan a model answer
• We will plan a model answer for this question
To what extent are modern political
parties internally democratic?
(25 marks, 500 words)
• 1 - Plan the introduction – today
• 2 – Plan the main body of the answer – Tuesday
• 3 – Plan the conclusion – Homework for the half
Plan of attack
• Introduction. Explain the meaning of the term
‘internally democratic’ as presented in the
– The term internally democratic refers to the
process followed by the different political parties
in the following key areas, How the Party leader is
elected, how the Party selects candidates and how
the Party develops its policies. However there are
essential differences in the internal democratic
processes within each of the main parties
– Discuss the nature of internal democracy in each
of the parties. Describe these in terms of the
three criteria — leadership election, candidate
selection and policy formulation.
– Demonstrate the key differences between the
ways in which parties make policy, elect leaders
and select candidates.
– Note the significance of the changes that are
occurring in terms of internal democracy
• Divide into two sections:
1. A summary of the comparison between the
2. An overall assessment of party democracy.
What are political parties?
Parties are groups or associations of people with similar political views or who share
the same political ideology.
They come into existence to ensure those political views are represented in the
political system and, ultimately, they seek governmental power in order to implement
Parties normally have some kind of formal organisation for the purpose of developing
policy and political programmes, recruiting and selecting candidates for office, and
mobilising public support for the policies.
After winning an election, a party becomes the government and its leading members
become the government’s ministers.
Parties which hold or share political office have a dual role. First, they continue to
mobilise public support for themselves and seek re-election. Second, they must
organise policies for the purpose of governing. This may involve compromises and
short-term changes in policy. Where there is a conflict between party policy and the
best interests of the country as a whole, the leadership must try to resolve the
Functions of political parties
• Parties aggregate policies. This means putting aspirational policies
together into coherent political programmes.
• They develop policy options to deal with various political problems.
• They recruit members, activists and leaders.
• They provide opportunities for people to participate in politics in a
• They are a training ground for political leaders.
• They educate the public about key political issues.
• They help to run elections, ensuring that people vote and are
informed about issues and candidates.
• They reinforce consent for the system of parliamentary democracy
by mobilising support for current political processes and institutions.